As a person who has experienced all three—that is, introversion, social anxiety disorder, and shyness—for extended periods of my life, most of the time it’s easy for me to distinguish which of the three that I’m feeling or displaying at any moment. Although sometimes it can be very confusing for many people, who only experience one or two of the three, and aren’t able to clearly distinguish which one applies to them.
First, let’s start off with introversion. For a simple definition, introverts are people who gain energy from being alone, and lose energy in stimulating environments, such as parties or other social events. This could even include socializing with friends for extended periods of time.
Introverts can be portrayed as quiet, solitary, and reserved people, but that isn’t always the case. Introverts can be social and talkative, but after socializing they need time to themselves to recoup and gain their energy back. This is unlike extraversion, the counterpart to introversion. It’s not always black and white—they both occur on a spectrum, meaning there are different degrees to each. Ambiverts exhibit qualities of both introversion and extraversion. Extraverts gain energy from social stimulation, and they can be energetic and assertive.
Here is a quiz to determine which one you fall into.
Next, social anxiety disorder. Social Anxiety Disorder is “the fear of interaction with other people that brings on self-consciousness, feelings of being negatively judged and evaluated, and, as a result, leads to avoidance.” To simplify, social anxiety disorder causes extreme fear in social settings.
Social anxiety is feeling anxious, nervous, and uncomfortable in social situations. There is also specific/selective social anxiety, such as only feeling anxious while meeting new people or speaking in front of large groups. It can lead to feelings of embarrassment, inferiority, emotional or mental stress, and sickness. Social Anxiety Disorder can also be connected to depression.
You might have social anxiety disorder if you:
- Worry about future social situations for days or weeks in advance
- Avoid social situations or try to make yourself invisible while in them
- Worry about embarrassing yourself in social situations
- Experience emotional distress while meeting new people
- Fear being constantly watched while doing something
- Experience extreme nervousness while being around people, especially large groups
It’s normal to feel anxious sometimes, but people with social anxiety disorder have a constant fear of being judged by others and humiliating themselves, which can result in avoiding social situations.
And finally, shyness. Shyness is a personality trait. It can include feeling awkward, tense, or worried during social situations, especially with strangers. It can take a bit of time before a shy person warms up to someone and becomes more open or friendly.
People who are shy don’t usually carry the negative emotions and feelings that accompany social anxiety. Also, while an introvert will keep to the sidelines of a social situation because it drains their energy, a shy person will avoid socializing for the fear of the unfamiliar. This means that both introverts and extraverts can be shy, although it’s more connected with introversion.
Shyness can fade away as people grow older, as it’s common among kids and teens, or as they become more comfortable being social. That is one of the ways shyness differs from introversion and social anxiety. Being an introvert is a part of human personality. Social anxiety disorder is a mental illness that affects a person’s mental health.
Being introverted, shy, or suffering from social anxiety disorder does not make you weak.
Understanding my own social anxiety and introversion, along with shyness when I was younger, has helped me grow as a person, accept who I am, and acknowledge my limitations and strengths.
Many people experience one, two, or all three of these. Making the distinction between the three and applying them to yourself can help you learn more about yourself and can help you understand your own strengths and weaknesses.